Software developer tears up plan

Last updated 00:46 21/04/2008
ROSS GIBLIN/Dominion Post
NOT A HOUSE: Mark Pascall, director of web design company 3months.com is gearing up to offer agile software development.

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Businesses need to learn that building software is a lot different to building houses, says 3months director Mark Pascall.

Mr Pascall is encouraging businesses to use the agile approach to develop software, in which software is developed in short cycles or iterations, and developers and clients work together throughout the project.

His Wellington-based web design firm 3months is setting up an agile consultancy division to help businesses change their approach.

"Traditionally, software is built the same way as buildings, following an engineering process where you first design the requirements - for example you say you want a four bedroom house - you write the functional specifications, then the development team builds it.

"I believe it's a flawed process when applied to leading edge software development. It's almost impossible to design exactly what you want at the beginning of a project."

Under the agile approach, businesses and developers can work through a series of phases to achieve a vision, Mr Pascall says.

Each phase must deliver some business value, and clients can review the project after each phase.

He says developing customised software is inherently risky. "You're building something completely unique every time, whereas if you're building a bridge, it's a known process.

"There's a much lower risk when you've got work iterations."

Developers and clients communicate throughout the project, rather than relying on original contracts and documents.

Mr Pascall says many large organisations such as NZ Post, Telecom and ACC want to adopt the agile process but don't know how to make the "huge cultural shift" .

"The bigger the organisation is, the harder it is to become agile. Big organisations need to have a lot of processes and documents and agile is not document-centric."

Not every business is suited to the agile method as some find it hard to commit without a detailed development plan.

"For the agile process to work, you need 100 per cent buy-in from the client." Mr Pascall says 3months has used the agile process to develop NZ on Screen - a NZ on Air website that will make homegrown TV content available online. The company, which turned over $1.6 million last year, has three agile specialists joining its staff of 10 this week.

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- The Dominion Post

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